As far as I know, The Artist (2011) is the first silent film ever to be placed in competition for the Palme d’Or. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s fair to say that silent film fans will take a keener interest than usual in the Cannes judging this year. There has been a lot of early buzz about The Artist, not least because it was swiftly snapped up and flaunted around town by the Weinstein Company. But then again, some of the other films in the competition have earned rave reviews already: notably Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Winner or not, The Artist is the most high-profile modern silent in a long, long time and we’re all keen to see it, to find out whether it lives up to the hype, and whether it’s a sensitive tribute to an era of exquisite film-making, or a heavy-handed pastiche.
To this end, I’ve pulled together as many reviews from Cannes as I can find so in the long wait for The Artist to hit UK cinemas we can amuse ourselves by forming our own opinions. We can base this a little on what the critics say, and mostly, of course, on our own preconceptions springing from the extraordinarily beautiful trailer:
First up, the tweets. Say what you like about Twitter, but it is hugely effective at capturing critics’ and industry types’ first impressions. Later they might chew on their pencils and come up with some niggles, but a critic’s first tweet as they emerge from the Grand Theatre Lumiere tells you how the movie is going to make you feel.
#Cannes Silent era Hollywood homage The Artist has critics applauding on a Sunday morning —NJLoved the silent movie THE ARTIST and the terrier in it is a dead cert for the Palm Dog, the Palme d’Or for canines #cannesTHE ARTIST (B+) A joy: lush, infectiously affectionate tribute to lost art, avoids exercise status with Dujardin’s quicksilver performance.The Artist, v charming, lovingly corny celebration of silent Hollywood on and off screen. Jean Dujardin nails it. #CannesThe Artist was bloody brilliant. Wow. My favourite film in #Cannes so far!Audience loves new silent film The Artist by Michel Hazanavicius fantastic recreation of silent era cinema #shedcffAbsolutely loved The Artist. Probably my favourite film so far at Cannes. I’m still humming the soundtrack.
By the time the reviews came to be written, critics were beginning to worry about how The Artist would play in the States. Can the punters handle a French, silent, B&W film? How the heck are they going to market it? Valid concerns, but I’ll let the Weinsteins worry about them. The reviews were mostly enthusiastic (3.5-4 stars mostly), full of praise for the film’s cinematography, Jean Dujardin’s lead performance and almost universally, the dog. I have included one negative review – the only one I found. Many drew a line between the sound revolution in Hollywood and the current rage for 3D. The film deals with the Great Depression too, and gained more points there for being relevant to modern audiences. There are a few spoilers in some of these pieces, and look away now if you don’t want to know the big one. The Artist is a homage to silent film, yes, but the silent film it is pretending to be seems to be something of a goat-gland job. Not inauthentic for the time period at all, and it seems that the use of sound is very impressive, but don’t be surprised if people want to nitpick about this.
“Five stars … both a surefire crowdpleaser and a magnificent piece of film-making. Whatever else, this is also surely the most enjoyable contender for the Palme d’Or this year.”
“Begone snobs! The Artist is most out-and-out joyous film of the festival to date, a valentine to the glories of silent cinema, a triumph of artistic teleportation, pure effervescence that gives crowdpleasing a good name… The Artist is not a film that thinks it’s superior to the movies it evokes (I was going to use the word ‘pastiche’, but that seems inappropriate; ‘pastiche’ sounds cold, a touch heartless – the very opposite of what this is). Hazanavicius has evidently immersed himself in the silent period, seeing in it liberation rather than restriction: he’s in love with its melodramatic intensity, its lack of irony, the importance it places on lighting and photography. Cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman, drawing on deathless classics such as Murnau’s City Girl (1930), makes black and white look wonderfully warm rather than austere. Ludovic Bource’s score is charming and amplified by two exquisitely clever breaks in the film’s otherwise complete eschewal of natural sounds.”
“Endlessly inventive, packed with clever sight gags and rich in stunningly achieved detail, The Artist is a pastiche and a passionate love letter to the silent age; it takes the silent movie seriously as a specific form, rather than as obsolete technology, and sets out to create a new movie within the genre … a simply gorgeous film: it’s tender, touching and never makes the mistake of simply sending itself up. The performances from Dujardin and Bejo are tremendous, with great support from two bona-fide Americans: James Cromwell as Valentin’s loyal chauffeur, and John Goodman as the glowering producer. And the happy ending had me on my feet cheering throughout the final credits. I can’t wait to see it again.”
“It’s a film about cinema that also has a heart: it moves between funny and sad and turns the dawn of the sound age into a personal tragedy, expressed as silent melodrama.”
“This is a project so idiosyncratic, so unlikely, so simultaneously innocent and sophisticated that it could only have been devised by the French. Yet it’s such a sheer delight — something one doesn’t often say about movies at Cannes — that Harvey Weinstein may well be right in believing he can turn it into a hit.”
“It sounded like a lame spin on Singin’ In The Rain. It turns out to be a true delight that movie buffs should embrace. The only thing pedestrian about the film is its title.”
“Hazanavicius’ approach to pastiche is exacting but not academic: story remains the top priority here, and he has settled on one that is snugly predicated on the film’s very own formal conceits.”
“an infectious confection about the rise and fall of (fictional) silent superstar George Valentin.”
“Funny, sly, touching, nostalgic, and interestingly relevant, The Artist will be a unique presence in this year’s awards race to say the least.”
“Filmed on studio stages as well as on old Hollywood streets, The Artist evinces unlimited love for the look and ethos of the 1920s, as well for the style of the movies. The filmmakers clearly did their homework and took great pleasure in doing so, an enjoyment that is passed along in ample doses to any viewer game for their nifty little conceit.”
“The problem with this pastiche is that the genuine silent cinema was so much better. Silent-era actors were more than talking figures with the sound turned off, and silent cinema developed a whole visual language of communication that “The Artist” lacks. The novelty of its silence wears off quickly.”
Can The Artist win the big prize? Only time will tell, but I’ve got a fiver on it. Prepare to congratulate or mock me come 22 May. And anyway, it’s a shoo-in for the Palm Dog.
The Artist should be released in the UK towards the end of 2011